Boardwalks

Niagara, beyond the Falls

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The world-famous natural wonder is spellbinding, but it only takes a few minutes to enjoy. Here’s where to go and what to do, after seeing the falls.

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That it’s a wonder, there’s no doubt. Whether standing at a floor-to-ceiling window in your 20th-floor hotel room, or right up there at the railing at Table Rock, the spray from those cascades bathing you in a cool mist, you’ll marvel—whether it’s your first visit, or your tenth.

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More than 3,000 tons of water, every single second of the day. Three separate falls, Bridal Veil, American and Horseshoe, the crooked smile of the latter dropping all that liquid more than 50 metres, foaming and frothing into a roiling cauldron below. And after a few minutes, you’ll probably turn to your family and friends, shake your head in wonder, and ask—what’s next?

Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls spanning the border between the province of Ontario and the state of New York.
Niagara Falls is a group of three waterfalls spanning the border between the province of Ontario and the state of New York. Photo by Niagara Parks / Christine Hess Photography

While there’s plenty to love about the famed wonders of Niagara Falls, admiring the actual flow only takes a matter of minutes. Fortunately, this small city offers plenty to amuse and occupy, a place with just 86,000 residents that in a typical year welcomes 14 million visitors. Some don’t wander further than the amusement parks and glittering pleasures of Clifton Hill, with its mini golf courses and go-kart track and spinning Ferris Wheel. But if you do, you’ll find plenty more to explore, enjoy and learn.

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For example, at the Niagara Parks Power Station, which once harnessed the fury of the falls and provided power to thousands on both sides of the border for more than a century. Opened in 1905, decommissioned in 2006, and transferred to Niagara Parks in 2009, the station is home to nine of Nikolai Tesla’s inventions.

A $25-million renovation has transformed this industrial facility into a museum, the first phase opening to the public last month. Ron Carpenter, senior project manager in engineering for Niagara Parks still marvels at the place. “When they built this, it was all horses and steam shovels,” he says, shaking his head. “The accuracy, the detail, it’s totally amazing.”

On a special preview tour, Carpenter walks me through the massive space, making our way across the main generator floor, pointing out the huge turbines, left mostly untouched from the time they supplied power to Fort Erie, Buffalo and both sides of Niagara Falls.

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For 100 years, the “Canadian Niagara Power Company generating station” harnessed the powerful energy of the Horseshoe Falls.
For 100 years, the “Canadian Niagara Power Company generating station” harnessed the powerful energy of the Horseshoe Falls. Photo by Niagara Parks

He explains that water was funnelled through the Tailrace Tunnel, which runs more than 600 metres. (When a second phase reopens next summer, guests will actually be able to walk through the tunnel, finishing with an unmatched view of the base of Horseshoe.)

Back in the sun, it’s time for a ride. Not much of a cyclist—I’m wobbly on a bike, at the best of times—I’m pleased to find a place where moving the wheels is as simple as pushing a button. Straddling the e-bike, I roll up and down the Niagara Parkway, which traces the river for 55 kilometres, all the way from Fort Erie in the south to Fort George at Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The White Water Walk on the quarter-mile boardwalk takes you beside the Niagara River’s Class 6 whitewater rapids.
The White Water Walk on the quarter-mile boardwalk takes you beside the Niagara River’s Class 6 whitewater rapids. Photo by Adam Spruijt

A great way to get plenty of fresh air and an unhindered view of things with little effort required, I make various stops, including classic attractions like Journey Behind the Falls, and the White Water Walk. Here, a series of stairs and boardwalks run through a steep-sided gorge between the Falls and the Whirlpool. The water, so close you can almost touch it, is untamed, and you can feel its power, surging from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.

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A series of panels explain the natural facts (the waves can rise as high as five metres, and these rapid are considered Class 6, or un-navigable), as well as stories of people who attempted a number of feats, including tightrope walking across (some didn’t make it.)

Wineries, hundreds of them, as well as distilleries sit just north of town, well within riding distance. There’s a stop for lunch—or, rather, “blunch,” on the patio at the Flour Mill Scratch Kitchen, a meal that includes towers of bacon and savoury tuna tartare and a wagyu breakfast burger that melts in the mouth.

Ravine Winery is a 100+ year-old farm located on St. Davids bench in Niagara-on-the-lake.
Ravine Winery is a 100+ year-old farm located on St. Davids bench in Niagara-on-the-lake.

Back on the bike, my thumb pressed down, maxing out the accelerator, I zoom past the golfers teeing off on the lush fairways at Whirlpool Golf Course, as well as the butterfly conservatory and the famous Floral Clock.

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Arriving at Queenston Heights and the soaring monument to Sir Isaac Brock, I meet an expert who has the same name as me, Tim Johnson, at the Landscape of Nations. A former associate director for museum programs at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, and New York, Johnson is in the process of creating a tour, with creative partner, Michele-Elise Burnett. It will highlight the Indigenous history in Niagara across 14 different sites, a program he piloted with local teachers in 2019. “Indigenous people have been in this region for 13,000 years,” says Johnson.

We walk the Landscape of Nations. “Were it not for the contribution of First Nations allies, Canada would look very different today,” notes Johnson, who helped create the exhibit, which opened in 2016 and honours the sacrifices made by the Six Nations and other Indigenous people in the War of 1812.

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The entrance is flanked by the bronze statues of John Brant (Ahyouwa’ehs)—Johnson is his direct descendent—and John Norton (Teyoninhokarawen). Both led warriors here, turning the tide of the Battle of Queenston Heights, just one of many other accomplishments, military and otherwise, for both men. The central Memory Circle is comprised of eight limestone walls. “It’s a living stone, created out of living creatures,” he says.

Dinosaur Adventure Golf is one of the nation’s largest miniature golf courses. Adam Spruijt
Dinosaur Adventure Golf is one of the nation’s largest miniature golf courses. Adam Spruijt Photo by Adam Spruijt

The walls are dedicated to each of the Six Nations, native allies, as well as peace and reconciliation. We finish at the Ever Growing Tree of Peace, where long tradition dictates that you bury the weapons of war.

The next morning, my e-bike returned, I meet birder Marcie Jacklin at Dufferin Islands park. The popularity of bird-watching grew by leaps and bounds during the pandemic, and Jacklin tells me it’s a great excuse to spend time outside, and why this area is so special.

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